Smoke is seen in the area of Mitiga airport, Tripoli.
(The Libya Observer)
Clashes broke out around Mitiga airport in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Monday, causing the suspension of all flights. Heavy gunfire could be heard from the center of the city and the airport said all flights had been suspended until further notice.
At least nine people have been killed, a health ministry official said. Local media reported that close to 30 people had been wounded in the fighting.
The fighting pitted the Special Deterrence Force (Rada), one of the most powerful groups in the city, against a rival group based in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood.
Rada acts as an anticrime and antiterrorism unit and controls Mitiga airport and a large prison next to it. It is occasionally targeted by rivals whose members it has arrested.
Mitiga is a military air base near the center of Tripoli that has been the city’s main airport for civilian flights since the international airport was partly destroyed by fighting in 2014.
The international airport remains out of service.
Rada said in a statement that the airport had been attacked by an individual called “Bashir ‘the Cow'” and others it had been seeking following their escape from a detention facility controlled by Rada elsewhere in Tripoli.
Rada posted pictures of streets around the airport, showing pick-up trucks mounted with guns and a tank.
Tripoli has been controlled by a patchwork of armed groups since a 2011 uprising that toppled long-time leader Muammar Gadhafi and led to the splintering of the country.
The factions sometimes clash in turf battles or over killings or detentions of their members, but there has been less open fighting in recent months after several groups aligned with the internationally recognized government, including Rada, consolidated their control of large parts of the capital.